Which youngster has not dreamed once to play a Stradivarius, the state of the art of violin making?
Unfortunately, these instruments are scarce - and unaffordable for most. "Replicas" of similar sound quality are strongly sought.
Francis Schwarze has created promising replicas : With the help of the fungus Physisporinus vitreus which degrades very specific structures in Norway spruce wood, his team succeeded in producing violins with an excellent sound quality.
At a conference in 2009 the sound of the Opus 58 (9 months fungal treated violin) was preferred by a professional jury and the conference audience to a 2 million dollar Stradivarius.
Even after seven years of the blind test the interest by the public and the media on the "mycowood" è violin project is still very large.
On September 1, 2009, Empa researcher Francis Schwarze and the Swiss violin maker Michael Rohnheimer experienced a great challenge: Their mycowood violins built from fungal treated wood challanged a Stradivari of the Cremona violin maker Antonio Stradivari from the year 1711th in a blind test.
The British star violinist Matthew Trusler played five different violins behind a curtain, so that the audience could not see the instruments. Trusler played with his own two million dollar Stradivarius, two fungal-treated and two untreated violins all made by Michael Rohnheimer.
A jury of experts and conference participants then evaluated the sound quality of the violins. Of the more than 180 participants an overwhelming number of 90 decided, that the sound of the fungal treated violin "Opus 58" was by far the best. The Stradivari took second place with 39 votes.
113 participants even thought that the Opus 58 was actually the Stradivari. The Opus 58 was made of a wood that hds been treated nine months, with a white rot fungus.
Download and/or listen the difference between the treated violin and the non-treated violin:
Violins made from wood treated with specifically selected fungi do not need to fear the comparison with a Stradivariu, as a blind test revealed.
However, at the moment only a few mycowood violins are available.
Empa researchers are currently working hard to optimize the fungal treatment and standardize the method so that biotech violins can be produced in larger quantities in the future.
For the continuation of his "MycoWood" project, Francis Schwarze is being supported by the Walter Fischli Foundation.
Walter Fischli, co-founder of the biotech company Actelion and an enthusiastic amateur violinist has decided to support the project: "In my opinion, it would have been unforgivable if this interesting project that combines science and the sound of violins would not have been continued"
Empa researchers are currently systematically measuring sound velocity, sound absorption and density of treated and untreated wood.
Ultrasound experts are developing methods to detect which areas of the wood the fungus was active and where not, and professionals for optical measurement methods are developing a process, which can acoustically map the sound radiation of entire instruments.
At a later stage it will be important to work with professionals in the field of psychoacoustics to help understand how violinists and listeners absorb the music of a “Mycowood” violin.